I came across REBEL: Loreta Velazquez, Secret Soldier of the American Civil War while perusing the DVD shelves at my local library a couple of weeks ago. Having just finished watching Mercy Street, I was looking for other shows or books about the many different roles women played during the Civil War. The blurb from the back of the case certainly piqued my interest:
In 1861, at the outbreak of the American Civil War, a teenager from New Orleans headed to the front lines. Under the alias Harry T. Buford, he fought at First Bull Run, was wounded at Shiloh, and served as a Confederate spy. But Buford harbored a secret -- he was really Loreta Velazquez, a Cuban immigrant from New Orleans. By 1863, Velazquez was spying for the Union. She scandalized American when she revealed her story in her 1876 memoir, The Woman in Battle. Attacked not only for her criticism of war, but her sexuality and social rule-breaking, Velazquez was dismissed as a hoax for 150 years. But evidence confirms she existed, one of over 1,000 women soldiers who served in the Civil War.
With the triple digit explosion of Latino immigrants throughout the South, along with a dizzying increase in hate crimes against Latinos, and the increase in numbers of Latino and women service personnel in the nation’s military, I believe this story about a southern woman Civil War soldier who struggled with difficult decisions about nationhood and patriotism in a country racked with the scourge and legacy of slavery will resonate with contemporary audiences. As we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War in the 21st century, it behooves us to broaden our understandings of the meaning of this pivotal struggle forged in blood, that sought to establish citizenship for all Americans.So, yeah. A woman passing as a man so she could fight in the war? A discussion about Cubans living in New Orleans in the 19th century? Scandal, sex, and social impropriety? Yes, please! Sounds like my kind of story.
I have watched the documentary and the "Behind the Scenes" clip (the documentary about the documentary?) a couple of times since bringing it home, and I find that it is so chock full of information that I truly needed to watch it several times to really get a handle on her story.
Filmmaker María Agui Carter does an excellent job addressing the ways race, gender, and ethnicity influenced Loreta's life, and the how she clearly went out of her way to defy many of the social expectations related to these same concepts.